The first leopard to be viewed consistently on Londolozi was simply known as “the Mother”.
Whilst other skittish leopards had been glimpsed occasionally as they made furtive dashes for cover to avoid human eyes or the pesky Land Rovers that had begun traversing the property, she was the first of her kind to be relaxed enough that rangers, trackers and their guests could actually enjoy a sighting of her.
John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo spent years of their lives following this female, documenting her movements and trials through film, which resulted in the first documentary of its kind; The Silent Hunter. This in-depth look into the life of a wild leopard revealed for the first time the day to day of a leopard in the African bush; hunting, raising cubs and trying to survive amidst a host of other predators. This was a side of Africa that nobody had ever seen before.
Through careful habituation of the Mother Leopard’s cubs to the presence of Land Rovers, and subsequent habituation of their cubs, Londolozi has enjoyed generations of almost unrivalled Leopard viewing in the heart of one of the most wildlife-rich reserves in the world. The lineage of that original female is still being followed and recorded in the current population of Londolozi’s leopards.
There is a chance, however, that this whole lineage – and with it an enormous part of the Londolozi history – is about to disappear.
The Ndzanzeni female is the last living descendant of the Mother Leopard who will directly continue her lineage and legacy.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Riverbank 3:3 female in early 2012.
When it comes to genetics and lineages in wild leopard populations, only the females are included as being links between successive generations. The males sadly are simply dead ends when it comes to record keeping. In the absence of historical DNA testing (although studies are currently underway under the auspices of the Panthera Organisation), it is almost impossible to say for sure who the father of a leopard cub is, as females will often mate with multiple males, and it has been shown that different males can father different cubs within the same litter. In order for her lineage to continue then, a female leopard needs to successfully raise a female cub, and have that female go on to produce female cubs of her own, and so on. Given that the average number of offspring successfully raised by a female leopard in her lifetime is 3-4 (interestingly enough, the most successful female on record was the Mother Leopard herself, who raised no less than 12 cubs to independence!), and if we’re looking at a roughly 50% ratio of male-female cubs, on average a female that lives out her whole life will on average only raise two female offspring to independence.
Those two are the ones that will then further her lineage. But anything can happen and averages really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Some females raise 1 cub in their lives; some raise 6 or 7. Some, like the Maxabene female for example, although successful mothers, don’t raise any females to independence.
We can talk about statistics all we want, but the facts are as follows: The Ndzanzeni female is the last hope for the continuation of the original Mother Leopard’s official lineage on Londolozi. All the Mother Leopard’s other female descendants have either died or dispersed into the Greater Kruger Park.
The Ndzanzeni female has somehow sustained a bad injury to her left hind leg, which over the past month has rendered it virtually useless. Should she die, that last link to the original Londolozi leopard will be severed.
Somehow or other, despite her injury, she has kept going, and has managed to make a couple of kills that have sustained her and her still-dependent son. His survival, as discussed above, is unfortunately a moot point in terms of the lineage, although obviously for his sake we hope he makes it.
The loss of the female herself on the other hand, would bring down the curtain on the most iconic lineage of the Leopards of Londolozi.
All is not lost however. In 2011 the 3:3 Dudley Riverbank young male sustained a similar injury (unknown causes) in which he too was unable to use his back leg and was seen limping around without placing any weight on it. Yet somehow he managed to eke out an existence, scavenging kills and killing smaller animals, just getting enough energy to survive and ultimately to heal. After six months, he had completely recovered.
About five days ago, ranger Greg Pingo and tracker Equalizer Ndlovu saw the Ndzanzeni female placing a little bit of weight on her leg. Not much, as it was only to balance on a tree branch, but it was something.
Thank you for helping me identify one of the leopards I saw as the Mashaba female 3:3!